The name Eastern Ghouta may not be a familiar one, but the neighborhood near the Syrian capital of Damascus is now making international headlines for all the wrong reasons. The enclave of 22 communities happens to be the last opposition-controlled region near the capital, and it's been the target of fierce bombing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Monday, airstrikes and artillery shelling killed about 100 people, including 20 children, reports the AP, citing stats from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the civil defense group known as the White Helmets. The details:
- Assad's strategy: With the civil war now in its seventh year, Assad is looking to reclaim rebel-held territory through "an outright military victory instead of a negotiated settlement," per the Guardian. The bombardment could be paving the way for a ground assault against the two Islamist factions that control the neighborhood of about 350,000 people, reports Gulf News.
- One problem: This is a suburb with no international borders and thus is of little strategic value to world powers, explains the Washington Post. "As a result, there is no power broker such as Turkey, Russia or the United States to deploy ground troops or strike a backroom deal."
- The targets: The Syrian strikes are hitting bakeries, warehouses that might have food, routes traveled by relief organizations and ambulances, and other vital means of survival for civilians, reports Lina Sinjab of the BBC. The death toll is rising because medical facilities also are among the targets, with four makeshift hospitals hit on Monday.
- Jarring quote: "We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century," one doctor tells the Guardian. "What is a greater terrorism than killing civilians with all sorts of weapons? Is this a war? It’s not a war. It’s called a massacre."
- Blank statement: The UN demanded an end to "this senseless human suffering," per al Jazeera, while UNICEF put out a deliberately blank statement. "We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage," the agency explained.
- Or hype? "In the UN, the topic of humanitarian problems in the Eastern Ghouta and Idlib is being actively hyped up," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, per the BBC. Moscow has long been allied with Assad in the conflict.
- Big picture: Assad has won his civil war, and analyst Mara Karlin writes at Brookings that the US must rethink its strategy in the region. The question is whether the focus should be on narrow counterterrorism efforts or "broader geopolitical affairs" given the country's tangled web of associations.
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